Football – No. 1 Middletown South Holds off No. 5 Rumson-Fair Haven
MIDDLETOWN — Middletown South isn’t a team to let outside distractions dictate how it approaches a game, but the Eagles were certainly aware of the notion that, after two subpar performances by their standards, people had begun to doubt their No. 1 ranking in the Shore Conference.
“We wanted to get respect back and make a statement, that’s the bottom line,” said junior Jake Krellin.
“It was tough to hear, but we wanted to show we are still No. 1 for a reason,” said senior linebacker Kevin Higgins.
The Eagles, ranked No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, restored their luster with a gritty 14-13 Shore Conference nondivisional victory over No. 5 Rumson-Fair Haven on Friday night at “The Swamp”. Krellin broke up a pass on fourth down with under 30 seconds left in the game from the 34-yard line to enable the Eagles (4-0) to win a battle of top 10 teams in New Jersey and run their winning streak to 16 games.
Sophomore running back Anthony Summey ran for a one-yard touchdown and senior quarterback Aneesh Agrawal threw a 61-yard touchdown pass to senior wide out Jeremy Joyce in the third quarter. Sophomore kicker Chris Kaldrovics kicked two extra points, the second of which held up as the game-winner.
“I couldn’t be more proud of these kids,” said Middletown South head coach Steve Antonucci. “They dug in deep, especially on defense. (Rumson) is a class program, there’s no doubt why they’ve won three straight state titles. They do what they do and they’re good at it. The great thing about playing a team like that is they’re similar to us - they have a plan and a scheme and they execute it well. We knew what we were going to get.”
Middletown South’s defense held Rumson to 179 total yards thanks to an outstanding game from Krellin, who unofficially had 14 tackles, two tackles for loss and one critical stop for no gain on fourth down. Krellin rushed the passer as a defensive lineman and linebacker, and also dropped into coverage, as he did on the game-clinching play. He was literally all over the field.
“He’s a kid who played every game for us as a sophomore and was thrown into the fire on a very good team,”. “He’s become that guy, a hybrid kid, almost like (senior defensive back) Maxx Imsho. Who knows where we’re going to line him up week-to-week? He’s athletic enough to do anything. You see him on offense, defense and special teams. He’s just a special kid and he loves playing football for us.”
Junior linebacker Chris Patterson had a strong game with two hits for a loss and senior Will Gulick recorded a sack. The Eagles were also bolstered by the return of Higgins, who had missed the last two games with a foot injury.
“Our best player (senior James McCarthy) is on the sidelines (out for the year with an ACL injury) and then our second best player as far as our defense is concerned is standing on the sidelines for two weeks,” Antonucci said. “You can see the difference he makes when he’s in there. He’s a run stopper, he’s a kid that gets after it. We just have to try to keep him healthy.”
Despite the deplorable weather conditions, Agrawal completed 11 of 20 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown. He dropped the touchdown pass to Joyce right into the receiver’s hands as he got separation from the defensive back.
“He has a great arm and a great idea of what we’re trying to do, and the deep ball is probably the best ball he throws,” Antonucci said. “We take deep shots because we have a kid that can do it. We ran that play earlier in the game and thought we had it set up, so we came back to it.”
Senior running back Matt Vecchiarelli ran for 52 yards and a touchdown and senior quarterback Mike O’Connor scored on a 15-yard run. Sophomore fullback Alex Maldjian had a 50-yard run and later a 23-yard run to set up O’Connor’s touchdown. Senior linebacker Mike Ruane unofficially made 15 tackles, three tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. Senior safety Pat Russo also recovered a fumble.
Ruane’s fumble recovery on the fourth drive of the game set up Rumson’s first touchdown. Thomas Chapin’s punt had pinned Middletown South at its own 1-yard line, and on a first-down run from the 15 the ball popped out where Ruane pounced on it. On the very next play, Vecchiarelli broke free off the right side for a 12-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Rumson lead with 1:52 left in the opening quarter.
Middletown South evened the score in the second quarter with an 11-play, 64-yard scoring drive. Summey had a 15-yard run on second-and-11 to bring the ball to the Rumson 27-yard line, and two plays later senior wide out Jeff Lewandowski turned what looked to be a sure interception into an 18-yard gain and a first-and-goal situation for the Eagles. Agrawal was hit as he threw and the ball floated into the secondary where two Rumson defenders eyed a potential turnover. Instead it was Lewandowski who snatched the pass out of the mist-filled air.
“I saw my guy come open so I threw, but I got hit and saw the ball go up as a duck,” Agrawal said. “I figured it was definitely getting picked, and down in that end that would be terrible. But I heard the cheers coming from our side instead. We scored on that drive, so it was huge.”
The scoring drive began after Middletown South stopped Rumson on fourth-and-inches from the Eagles’ 36-yard line. Krellin came up and dropped O’Connor for no gain to end the Bulldogs’ drive.
“It was who wanted it more,” Higgins said. “When they were (third) and fourth and inches many ties we prevailed. We stopped them.”
Rumson nearly regained the lead in the final minutes of the first half. Maldjian ripped off a 50-yard run down to the Middletown South 12-yard line, but a fumble on third down set the Bulldogs back 14 yards to the 23. Chapin attempted a 40-yard field goal but it was no good.
Middletown South took the lead for good on its second drive of the third quarter. Agrawal went up top to Joyce on first down, and after making the catch, Joyce slipped out of an ankle tackle before running the remaining 20 yards into the end zone. Kaldrovics’ kick put the Eagles up 14-7 with 7:26 left in the third quarter.
Late in the third quarter, Russo’s fumble recovery set up Rumson’s second scoring drive. After taking over at midfield, a 22-yard run by Vecchiarelli and a 23-yard run by Maldjian put the ball at the 5-yard line. Two plays later, O’Connor reversed field on a 5-yard touchdown run. The extra point was no good, however, keeping Middletown South in the lead by one.
Rumson had two more offensive possessions, but Middletown South shut the Bulldogs down each time to remain No. 1 in the Shore for the 16th straight week.
After being unhappy with its own play over the last two weeks and hearing people doubt their place as the Shore’s best, Middletown South responded exactly how a program with 10 sectional titles usually does.
“We were really focused this week, whether it was Rumson that got our attention or maybe all the stuff being said out there,” Antonucci said. “We’re not what we were a year ago, but we’re still a good football team and we’re going to win a lot of football games.”
No. 1 Middletown South 14, No. 5 Rumson-Fair Haven 13
Rumson-Fair Haven (2-1) 7 0 0 6 — 13
Middletown South (4-0) 0 7 7 0 — 14
RFH — Matt Vecchiarelli 12-yard run (Thomas Chapin kick)
MS — Anthony Summey 1-yard run (Chris Kaldrovics kick)
MS — Aneesh Agrawal 61-yard pass to Jeremy Joyce (Chris Kaldrovics kick)
RFH — Mike O’Connor 5-yard run (kick failed)
Rushing — RFH: Alex Maldjian 5-74, Matt Vecchiarelli 18-55, Mike O’Connor 20-32; MS: Anthony Summey 19-64, Aneesh Agrawal 3-6, Samson Dube 5-3.
Passing — RFH: Mike O’Connor 4-11-0 28; MS: Aneesh Agrawal 11-20-0 140.
Receiving — RFH: Jack Oberle 1-8, Peter Lucas 1-7, Trevor Caruso 1-7, Tyler Piersen 1-6; MS: Jeremy Joyce 1-61, Jeff Lewandowski 6-45, Samson Dube 4-34.
Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.